Supernova in M82 peaks at magnitude 10.5, nicely visible in amateur telescopes. Catch it before the waxing Moon starts brightening the sky after about February 3rd. See our updated article, Supernova in M82 Reaches Its Peak.
Friday, January 31
Saturday, February 1
Sunday, February 2
Monday, February 3
Tuesday, February 4
Wednesday, February 5
Thursday, February 6
Friday, February 7
Saturday, February 8
Want to become a better astronomer? Learn your way around the constellations. They're the key to locating everything fainter and deeper to hunt with binoculars or a telescope.
This is an outdoor nature hobby. For an easy-to-use constellation guide covering the whole evening sky, use the big monthly map in the center of each issue of Sky & Telescope, the essential guide to astronomy. Or download our free Getting Started in Astronomy booklet (which only has bimonthly maps).
Once you get a telescope, to put it to good use you'll need a detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of charts). The standards are the little Pocket Sky Atlas, which shows stars to magnitude 7.6; the larger and deeper Sky Atlas 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 8.5); and once you know your way around, the even larger Uranometria 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 9.75). And read how to use sky charts with a telescope.
You'll also want a good deep-sky guidebook, such as Sue French's Deep-Sky Wonders collection (which includes its own charts), Sky Atlas 2000.0 Companion by Strong and Sinnott, the bigger Night Sky Observer's Guide by Kepple and Sanner, or the beloved if dated Burnham's Celestial Handbook.
Can a computerized telescope replace charts? Not for beginners, I don't think, and not on mounts and tripods that are less than top-quality mechanically (able to point with better than 0.2° repeatability, which means fairly heavy and expensive). As Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer say in their invaluable Backyard Astronomer's Guide, "A full appreciation of the universe cannot come without developing the skills to find things in the sky and understanding how the sky works. This knowledge comes only by spending time under the stars with star maps in hand."
This Week's Planet Roundup
Mercury is visible in evening twilight, low in the west-southwest. It fades rapidly, from magnitude –0.6 to +0.7 this week.
Venus (magnitude –4.8) shines brightly in the dawn; look southeast. In a telescope Venus is a crescent, thickening from 14% to 19% sunlit this week.
Mars (magnitude +0.2, in Virgo) rises around 11 p.m. It's just 4° or 5° from lesser Spica to its lower right. Compare their colors. They're highest in the south around 4 a.m., with Spica now under Mars.
In a telescope Mars is about 9 arcseconds wide, big enough for telescopes to give glimpses of its surface features. Mars is on its way to an apparent diameter of 15.1″ when closest to Earth in mid-April.
Jupiter (magnitude –2.6, in Gemini) dominates the eastern sky in early evening. It crosses nearly overhead (for mid-northern observers) around 9 or 10 p.m.
Saturn (magnitude +0.5, in Libra) rises around 1 or 2 a.m. and is high in the south at dawn. By then it's far to the left of Mars and Spica, and less far to the upper right of Antares. Saturn is nearing western quadrature (90° west of the Sun).
Uranus (magnitude 5.9, in Pisces) can still be located in the west-southwest right after dark. Finder chart.
Neptune is disappearing into evening twilight.
All descriptions that relate to your horizon — including the words up, down, right, and left — are written for the world's mid-northern latitudes. Descriptions that also depend on longitude (mainly Moon positions) are for North America.
Eastern Standard Time (EST) is Universal Time (UT, UTC, or GMT) minus 5 hours.
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